The Glengarry News
Williamstown’s Sir John Johnson House will soon undergo a massive renovation project that could, when it’s completed, offer long-term accommodations.
“What we want to do is get the house to a state where it can pay for its upkeep,” says Brent Lafave, president of the Sir John Johnson Manor House Committee.
The renovations are expected to begin in March and should cost about $1.4 million. Last week, Parks Canada announced that it was investing $450,000 in the project.
Mr. Lafave says the approval of funds was the result of his committee’s lobbying efforts.
“It was becoming obvious that structural failure was a major issue,” he told The News, adding that the problem was getting so bad that the house would, potentially, have to be closed if it wasn’t repaired. “We could see where floors were dipping and the ceilings were sagging.”
As the house was built toward the end of the 18th Century, it’s understandable that it’s fallen into a state of disrepair. Mr. Lafave says that the floors and rafters need to be replaced, the roof needs reshingling and the building’s load-carrying capacities need to be augmented.
The committee brought the house‘s condition to the attention of Parks Canada in 2012, when it suggested that the house be stabilized, renovated and refurbished with a view of having rental units in the upper part of the building.
Parks Canada agreed to the committee’s proposal and has already invested $50,000 to pay for an engineering feasibility study.
In order to raise the additional funds to complete the overhaul, the committee has a sub-committee dedicated to fundraising. Mr. Lafave intends to meet with various government representatives as well as appeal to the public for both corporate and personal donations.
When the renovations are finished, the committee hopes the house will include three bedrooms and a suite to accommodate people who want to stay at the house on a temporary or more permanent basis. Rental revenue from these suites would go to maintenance. Right now, Parks Canada pays the bills and looks after the grounds.
Additionally, there is a furnishing committee that would decorate each of the rooms according to various historically appropriate themes. One room might be dedicated to the Loyalist Sir John Johnson, for whom the Manor House is named. Another room might be inspired by Hugh McGillis, the retired fur trader who bought the house from Sir Johnson in 1819.
The renovations could last as long as two years, which means that the Williamstown library branch, currently operating out of the Manor House, would have to find a new temporary location.
Karen Franklin, Director of Library Services for Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, says her board is looking at some options but that discussions are still in the preliminary stage.
She offered one possible location, the nearby St. Mary’s Centre, but stressed that nothing is final as of yet.
Parks Canada estimates that the house was built sometime between 1785 and 1787. Curiously, the house itself may not have been built for Sir Johnson but for the miller who oversaw the nearby saw and grist mills.
Today, the Manor House is a popular tourist attraction in South Glengarry. It is also home to the annual Manor House Social, which takes place this year July 20 at 6:30 p.m.